When is enough enough? That is a question we struggle with on a daily basis in America. We are born into a culture that always wants more. I am a product of this exposures and experience of my edifying enrichment. It is the American way to always want more.
The Algonquin people told tales of the wendigo, a malevolent spirt that appeared as a man that had feelings of insatiable greed and hunger, and in their telling, had a desire cannibalize other humans. The more flesh the wendigo ate, the hungrier it grew, wanting more, more, and still more.
This has come to be symbolic of any person, group, or movement with an overwhelming appetite and greed for ever greater consumption of food, power, wealth, or material possessions. This is the America that we live in, a place where enough is never enough. We need bigger houses, fancier cars, more clothes, appliances—the latest in technology and gadgets. More.
This voracious hunger that can never be fulfilled is something that I often see and most certainly have experienced as a writer. There is always a desire for more, a reaching past what is had, to spy upon what could be next. As writers, we need to sometimes hit the pause button, and stop to smell the proverbial roses.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, or have since the age of eight, anyway. There were many bumps along the way. I wrote my first manuscript when I was twenty-two years old, fresh out of college. I am Cuba. A mere thirty-one years later, that book was published, creating my first traditionally published novel.
I might interject that this was a rather patient time for me, and many roses were smelled, perhaps too many. But it was not for a lack of wanting. And when that first book came to fruition, my hunger grew ravenous. I signed a contract with Encircle Publications. Then came the cover reveal. Then the ARC. Then it was launch day. Book signings. I had written, published, and was selling copies of my own book. But I wanted more.
Here, I will discuss the potential more that was desired, without commenting upon which rung of the ladder I have currently reached. In my mind, I have already reached the top, and realized that the peak might not be quite as exciting as the climb. You know, that old thing, it’s the journey and not the destination that matters.
A writer writes a book. Edits it. Feels pretty good about it. Decides to shop it an agent or maybe directly to a publisher. A publisher decides to offer a contract, the deal is signed, and roughly a year later, the writer, now an author, receives ARCs in the mail. A fabulously exciting milestone that is only eclipsed by book release day, which coincided with a launch party in which the newly crowned author is praised by family, friends, and perhaps a solitary stranger from the wild he wanders into the celebration by mistake.
Okay, so Velma had a pub date of April 12th. Maybe this will be the one? The one what?
A book has been written, edited, sold, published, and launched. Then what? The author wants to be recognized for their work in terms of awards and sales. A modest award is realized by a company that nobody has ever heard of, and a trickle of sales leak out, the author following the Amazon Author Central page to see how the book is doing, even though the algorithm developed by Amazon has almost nothing to do with actual sales.
More. This is not enough. The author wants more and bigger awards. Increased sales. Slamming their way through social media sites to promote their baby, attending expensive conferences to network and brand themselves and their book—scrapping and scraping to gain notoriety and fame, the author manages to win a more substantial award, one that people have actually heard of, and sales tick up another notch.
But this is not enough. The author wants to win an Edgar, a Booker, a Nobel, or a Pulitzer. They want to open the New York Times and see their name on the list, and if really greedy, they want that name to be on the very top. The author wants the major conferences to woo them, offer them to be the guest of honor, wined and dined, and treated like royalty.
But what happens when there is no more more to lust after? When the awards have piled high and the sales are on par with Stephen King?
And this one author, wonders, if perhaps, it is not just enough to write. Write on.
Matt Cost was a history major at Trinity College. He owned a mystery bookstore, a video store, and a gym, before serving a ten-year sentence as a junior high school teacher. In 2014 he was released and began writing. And that’s what he does. He writes histories and mysteries.
Cost has published four books in the Mainely Mystery series, with the fifth, Mainely Wicked, due out in August of 2023. He has also published four books in the Clay Wolfe Trap series, with the fifth, Pirate Trap, due out in December of 2023.
For historical novels, Cost has published At Every Hazard and its sequel, Love in a Time of Hate, as well as I am Cuba. In April of 2023, Cost will combine his love of histories and mysteries into a historical PI mystery set in 1923 Brooklyn, Velma Gone Awry.
Cost now lives in Brunswick, Maine, with his wife, Harper. There are four grown children: Brittany, Pearson, Miranda, and Ryan. A chocolate Lab and a basset hound round out the mix. He now spends his days at the computer, writing.
Amen to write on. I cringe at most of what’s needed beyond the creative part we call writing. I will most likely die with more unpublished than in print.
I rather enjoy the other facets so that is good. But yes, write on. That is the key and the important part.
This was the perfect post for me. Just yesterday I was telling my husband I’ve spent my whole life waiting. Anticipating. Looking forward. Hoping. Perhaps I’d better pay attention to right now.
I’m glad it was timely! And yes, today is the day that matters, I agree. Write on.
Our collective malaise may be connected to our white European background and culture.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst wrote about this:
“In Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1973) Jung described his encounter with Native Americans he met in New Mexico in 1925. This event, though brief, had a profound effect on Jung, and he referred to it many times in his writings. He commented that his experience in New Mexico made him aware of his imprisonment “in the cultural consciousness of the white man” (Jung, 1973, p. 247).
At the Taos pueblo, Jung spoke for the first time with a non-white, a Hopi elder named Antonio Mirabal (also known as Ochwiay Biano and Mountain Lake), who said that whites were always uneasy and restless: “We do not understand them. We think that they are mad” (Jung, 1973, p. 248). Jung asked him why he thought the whites were mad, and the reply was ” ‘They say that they think with their heads . . . . We think here,’ he said, indicating his heart” (p. 248). Impressed, Jung said he realized that Mountain Lake had unveiled a significant truth about whites.
To Jung the Indians he met appeared to be tranquil and dignified, which Jung attributed to their belief that (as Mountain Lake explained) through their religious practice, they helped the sun cross the sky every day. Jung believed this belief and practice served the function of making the Indians’ lives cosmologically meaningful. Whites, on the other hand, use reason to formulate the meaning of life: “Knowledge does not enrich us; it removes us more and more from the mythic world in which we were once at home by right of birth” (Jung, 1973, p. 252). Jung said that it would be necessary to put away all European rationalism and knowledge of the world to begin to understand the Pueblo Indian’s point of view.”
I’d say it is most certainly cultural. I like to think it is something that we can mindfully change.
Unfortunately, when you have a society who’s success is defined by consumption, consumption is the only point. The consumer is touted as the make or break for our economic health. Advertising has convinced us we need more, and we want it now. If we’re not buying, everything falls apart. Industry is not successful unless it is constantly growing. I have a newspaper from 1972 with the headline ‘Stock market hits new record…734.’ Fifty years later it reached 36,799.65.
All the ills we now suffer are a direct result of this. More is better. Bigger is better. Too much is never enough. The one with the most toys wins.
But, you know what we can never have too much of…storytellers. Storytellers have always been treasured, revered, respected. They preserve our histories. They entertain, inform and help us escape. Please continue to do what you do. You are needed now more than ever. There will never be too many stories.
Thank you for the kind words of support. That is better than book sales and awards.
As a women born in the middle of the last century (!!!), I find the trick is to convince myself that I am worthy. I’m sitting on three Maine-set genealogical mystery novels featuring a young amateur female sleuth with a social conscience. Encouraged by my beta readers, I’ve made a concerted effort this year to nudge the series toward submission. But there are internal hurdles to overcome, not the least of which are introversion, lack of confidence, and an aversion to self-promotion. I will take heart from you and trudge on! Thank you so much for sharing your story and reminding me that publication is not meant to be a cakewalk….(P.S. I spend half the year near Brunswick – do you ever give author talks at the Curtis?) – Katherine
It is certainly not easy. It is very easy to be bruised by the haters out there and that is a part that I’ve been able to overcome and not care about. And because you write you are a writer. There is no correct or incorrect way to be a writer. Do what works for you. Curtis has suspended their author events for the time being so I have no future plans to be there. But I do a bit in the local area so keep your eyes peeled! (I will be signing books at Sherman’s in Topsham this Saturday from 11-1)
You raise some great points here, Matt. I have had some great “I could die now” milestones along the way and sometimes wonder if I should have stopped there. But along with the longings for fame and fortune, it is easy to lose sight of the magic of the writing itself, the thrill of being in the flow. I know I have.
Hopefully you have merely ‘misplaced’ the magic of writing. I am sure it will find its way back to you. Perhaps milestones are only speed bumps along the journey….